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Invitrogen Enters Emerging miRNA Chip Market With NCode Array; Targets Pharma, Molecular Dx


Looking to get ahead in a nascent market as well as facilitate its in-house molecular diagnostics program, Invitrogen threw its hat into the competitive microRNA microarray market this week by pledging to make its NCode Multi-Species miRNA Array Platform available by next month.

The new product will enter a market being explored by Ambion and Applied Biosystems, as both have either launched or pledged to launch tools for miRNA expression profiling this autumn.

Invitrogen's array will permit researchers "to profile the miRNA expression patterns in a given disease or developmental state," the company said, adding that its NCode product will contain "all known miRNAs from humans," plus additional human predicted miRNAs, mouse, rat, Drosophila, C. elegans, and zebrafish.

According to Peter Jozsi, who manages the NCode product at Invitrogen, the company sees the market for miRNA expression profiling as "a bit nascent right now," but projects "there will be really strong growth in the next few years."

"If you were to compare it to the current array market, like expression profiling for mRNA, it's certainly a fraction of that. However, we see an explosion over the last few years in the number of publications for microRNAs, so it's an extremely hot field right now," Jozsi told BioArray News this week.

Jozsi also said that the new product is being used in-house at Invitrogen as part of a plan to develop its own line of biomarkers and molecular diagnostics.

"As soon as it makes economical sense, once we get to a certain point where a certain percentage of new microRNAs have been discovered, then we would release a new array with the new content once it is validated."

"We already … have some interesting results in house, using these arrays to profile stem cells. So it's certainly a tool that has become of interest in-house for those applications and those efforts," Joszi said.

Similarly, Joszi said that pharmaceutical companies will be among Invitrogen's target consumers for the new NCode array. "Pharma has certainly taken an interest," he said. "Some groups within the industrial community are looking at patient stratification order and subtyping tumors. The interesting thing about microRNAs is that they are implicated in so many types of diseases that it's really ranging from the basic research level all the way through to pharma."

Invitrogen has also seen some academic interest in the array. Ron Hart, an early-access customer and a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University, said in a statement this week that he has been using the microarrays to survey full sets of miRNAs in neural stem cells during differentiation, which has "allowed us to detect novel patterns of regulated miRNAs systematically."

The Array

According to Jozsi, the NCode Multi-Species miRNA Array Platform will be sold with several components, including a "microRNA isolation product, … a microRNA labeling and detection system, as well as a microRNA array that you use to profile the microRNA expression patterns … and some controls."

The content will be made available on the pre-printed NCode array, which is printed in duplicate, and contains "about 330 human microRNAs, with an additional 150 or so human predicted microRNAs — RNAs that have yet to be validated," he said.

Additionally, the array provides 250 mouse miRNAs, 200 for rat, 93 for Drosophila, 130 for C. elegans, and 163 for zebrafish, with controls spotted throughout. The content can also be split into mammalian and non-mammalian probe sets if people want to print arrays themselves, Joszi said.

Invitrogen will provide all of the tools necessary to run an assay on the array except for a scanner, Joszi said, recommending that this "particular platform can be run on a standard two-color scanner" from companies like [Molecular Devices] or PerkinElmer.

The arrays will be sold in five-packs for $750, or $150 per array, when they are launched in December, Joszi said this week, adding that the labeling system runs "somewhere around $700" for 20 reactions.

He said that Invitrogen expects the product to "suit the needs of the research that is going on out there," including "a lot of developmental biologists that are looking at microRNA expression profiles with different times and points throughout larval differentiation or stem cell differentiation."

He also said that Invitrogen would consider releasing other miRNA products based on the platform in the future, with an eye on downstream analysis, including "products for validation, RT-PCR, as well as functional analyses, like overexpression and knockdown."

One issue Invitrogen will have to wrestle with is the fact that new microRNAs are being discovered continuously. Joszi said that Invitrogen will keep track of newly reported miRNAs and may have to release an updated product in the future.

"As soon as it makes economical sense, once we get to a certain point where a certain percentage of new microRNAs have been discovered, then we would release a new array with the new content once it is validated," he said.

The Competition

Invitrogen's most immediate rivals will likely be Ambion and Applied Biosystems. Last month, GE Healthcare announced that it had agreed to manufacture microRNA chips on its CodeLink platform for Ambion.

Ambion's arrays, called mirVana miRNA microarrays, include a panel of known human, mouse, and rat miRNAs, as well as Ambion's "proprietary" and "non-published" microRNAs, called Ambi-miRs, according to the companies (see BAN 10/05/2005).

According to Ambion's website, a single order of three slides, or six arrays, would cost a US customer $1,600.

Another, less-direct competitor is ABI, which launched its RT-PCR TaqMan miRNA assays for miRNA expression profiling in September. Criss Walworth, product director for TaqMan Gene Expression, told BioArray News' sister publication BioCommerce Week two months ago that ABI had seen a similar market opportunity (see BioCommerce Week, 9/15/2005).

"Any folks interested in gene regulation are now taking a look at microRNAs," she said at the time. "The other area that we're seeing a lot of interest in is clinical research, [with] people looking at cancer, or disease subclassification that traditionally had been done with standard messenger RNA microarrays. They're actually now looking at microRNAs and finding that they're getting even tighter correlation and more informative data," she told BioCommerce Week.

Invitrogen's Joszi said that content coupled with cost would be his firm's selling points in the competitive miRNA array market.

"At this point we are pursuing novel content as best we can through collaborations through industrial as well as academic groups," he said. "We hope to increase our content and thus the value of the array through that route."

— Justin Petrone ([email protected])

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